After surrendering the lead in the fifth inning to Valparaiso (9-13) – trailing by two, 6-4 – the Northern Illinois baseball team (5-19-1) retook the lead in the seventh inning and never looked back to defeat the Crusaders, 10-6.
“It was a good day offensively for us and did so in various ways, obviously 13 hits is always good. Add to the fact that we drew a few walks and a couple bit by pitches and we had some good opportunities,” said head coach Ed Mathey. “What I liked about today’s approach was that we used the whole field and there were several two strike hits which is something we’ve talked about to help us improve.”
Of the Huskies 10 runs scored, nine of the runs came from the Nos. 6-9 in the batting order with Connor Schomig (Darien, Ill./Hinsdale South) scoring three.
In the second inning and the sacks juiced with no outs, Smith poked his bat across the plate on an 0-2 pitch and chopped a ball to shallow right field to score Klonowski from third base to score the first run of the game. Russell drove the next pitch to centerfield to score the next run and maintain zero outs for the Huskies.
Tommy Hook (Lockport, Ill./Lockport Township) scratched across the final run of the frame, though he grounded into a double play, to put NIU up in the top of the second, 3-0. The Crusaders would add one run in the bottom of the second as their leadoff hitter Michael Morman singled to lead the inning and scored on a pair of ground outs after a stolen base to give the Huskies a 3-1 lead through two.
Northern Illinois had a golden opportunity in the top of the fourth a Schomig led the frame with a single through the right side.
With two men down, Hook got his first single of the day, laying down a bunt to third base, which pulled all coverage from the bases and put runners on second and third. Second baseman Justin Fletcher (Pekin, Ill./Illinois Central) hit a hard ball to the left side that looked like it would slip through but third baseman Spencer Mahoney made a diving save and through out Fletcher to end the threat.
Valparaiso accounted for one more in the bottom of the fourth inning as relief pitcher Dirk Ormsby (Ligonier, Ind./Kellogg Community College) allowed four free bases to allow the run. However, Ormsby also recorded two-straight strikeouts to make way for Justin Ruckman (Kankakee, Ill./Herscher), who forced a line out to end the inning.
After a one-out walk by Brandon Mallder (Bridgeview, Ill./St. Laurence) in the fifth inning, Alex Klonowski (Kearney, Mo./Kearney) executed a hit-and-run double down the right field line to put the Huskies up by two runs, 4-2. Valpo added four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to take a 6-4 lead. Leftfielder Matt Williams (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) threw out a runner out at home to end the inning in spectacular fashion to usher in the sixth inning.
The Huskies closed the gap to one run in the top of the sixth as NIU scored on a sacrifice fly by Fletcher to centerfield to give the Crusaders a 6-5 lead. With his first appearance in the field, Williams recorded his first career hit and tied the game as Schomig doubled to tie it up, 6-6.
Russell put NIU back on top with two outs on a hit and run, hitting it where the second baseman was on the base coverage, 7-6. Northern Illinois added another run on a double steal with Smith executing the steal at home to put NIU up, 8-6. Smith drove in two more runs on a double to left centerfield in the top of the ninth to lift NIU, 10-6.
Pitcher Ryan Olson (Sterling, Ill.) was dynamic for the Huskies in relief, tossing 2.1 innings with one hit and no runs allowed for his first win of the season and the second of his career. The NIU pitching staff surrendered zero runs in the final four innings of play as Olsen, TJ Schrader (Mackinaw, Ill./Illinois Central) and Andrew Frankenreider (Peoria, Ill./Dunlap) closed the door on the Crusaders comeback.
“We had to find some guys who could find the zone out there and I thought Ryan was outstanding out there putting the ball in the strike zone,” added Mathey. “He deserved the win and I was happy that he got it. It was good to see T.J. throwing the ball well today and Andrew Frankenreider did a great job today and that was good to see as well.”
The Huskies will return to action Friday, April 4, resuming Mid-American Conference play versus Toledo at Ralph McKinzie Field. First pitch is slated for 3:05 p.m.
For more information on NIU baseball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.